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Jack Ma lands in Hong Kong for tech, finance meetings

GLOBAL TOUR:
Despite keeping a low profile since Beijing’s regulatory crackdown on Ant Group and Alibaba Group in 2020, the executive has gradually resumed travel

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) cofounder Jack Ma (馬雲) is in Hong Kong for a series of meetings with tech and finance executives, sustaining a recent flurry of activity that has taken him round the world in the span of months.

The billionaire, who has kept a low profile since Beijing in 2020 singled out first Ant Group Co (螞蟻集團) and then Alibaba for regulatory overhauls, has been meeting prominent figures based in the territory, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported, citing anonymous sources.

Ma arrived in past few days, but his exact agenda remains unclear, a person familiar with the situation said, asking to remain anonymous.

Photo: AFP

Since late last year, Ma has gradually resumed the globe-trotting that once defined China’s best-known entrepreneur.

He spent time in Tokyo and the Japanese countryside before making his way to Thailand, where he toured food spots and reportedly attended a Muay Thai boxing match.

Before that, he visited the US and Israel, the Financial Times reported in November last year.

The executive — among China’s most recognizable faces — has been on the move since signs emerged that Beijing was relenting in a campaign to curtail the influence and power of Internet giants.

This month, Ma ceded controlling rights to his Ant fintech empire, which many observers took as a signal that the punishing crackdown was nearing an end.

Alibaba’s shares climbed as much as 3.4 percent in Hong Kong yesterday, outperforming the broader market.

Ma mostly disappeared from public view after giving a 2020 speech that criticized Chinese regulators — right before Beijing scuttled what would have been a record initial public offering (IPO) by Ant.

It triggered a series of regulatory probes and actions that targeted tech giants from Alibaba to Didi Global Inc (滴滴), wiped out growth at rivals such as Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊), and forced private businesspeople to curtail their activities.

Regulators cracked down on Didi’s business in 2021 after the company pushed ahead with a more than US$4 billion US IPO against Beijing’s wishes.

However, Didi’s main apps have returned to the country’s biggest mobile stores, allowing the ride-hailing giant to resume growth after more than a year spent in regulatory limbo.

Its main ride-hailing app reappeared for download on the Chinese iOS store, as well as platforms run by Huawei Technologies Co (華為) and Xiaomi Corp (小米), searches run yesterday showed.

Relaunching the apps is a prerequisite for Didi to resume business as usual, and to eventually work toward listing its stock in Hong Kong.

“The market expects a listing in HKEx, but DIDI will need to introduce a government-trusted shareholder before the company gets support” from regulators, Bernstein analysts wrote this week.

“It also needs to increase license compliance rate,” they added.

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